Few SUVs have the level of name recognition that the Toyota 4Runner enjoys. Launched in 1984, the 4Runner has always been Toyota's smaller and more affordable complement to the legendary Land Cruiser. Even though the first 4Runner was little more than Toyota's compact two-door pickup with a removable top, it was nonetheless rugged and tough. Over time, the 4Runner has earned its own reputation as a durable vehicle -- off-road and on.
During the SUV-crazy '90s, Toyota introduced more models, which allowed the company to move the 4Runner up a few notches in size, accoutrements and price. Still truck-based and still outfitted with a solid rear axle, the current Toyota 4Runner boasts old-school brawn. A midsize crossover SUV will likely be a better choice for most shoppers, considering a crossover's more carlike handling and fuel economy, but the 4Runner continues to be a top choice for a dependable SUV that's both comfortable, yet rugged enough for recreational off-road duty.
Current Toyota 4Runner
The current Toyota 4Runner is based on the same platform as the rugged FJ Cruiser. As ever, it has a trucklike solid rear axle for superior off-road performance. There are three trim levels: SR5, Trail and Limited. All are powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission offered is a five-speed automatic. The SR5 and Limited can be had in either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive (part-time system on SR5, full-time system on the Limited), while the Trail comes only with part-time 4WD.
The SR5 comes standard with alloy wheels, skid plates, foglights, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories with a power rear window, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a CD/MP3 audio system. The Trail (available only with 4WD) adds a hood scoop, a locking rear differential, Crawl Control (which automatically modulates throttle and brakes when ascending or descending hills), off-road tires, a rearview camera, water-resistant upholstery and Bluetooth.
The luxurious Limited gets Toyota's X-REAS adaptive suspension dampers (for controlling body roll), keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control and an upgraded audio system with Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system. Major options include a third-row seat and a navigation system. The available Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) can disconnect the front and rear stabilizer bars at speeds below 40 mph for greater wheel articulation over uneven terrain.
In reviews, we've been pleased with the 4Runner's excellent off-road ability and strong V6 engine. It's also useful for carrying people and cargo thanks to its available third-row seat and 90 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. Just don't expect it to drive like a car-based crossover -- this is a traditional SUV. If all you need is an urban runabout, there are better choices.
Used Toyota 4Runner Models
The current 4Runner represents the fifth-generation model that debuted for 2010. On the outside, this latest 4Runner distinguishes itself from its predecessor with an edgier look, highlighted by a blocky front grille and pronounced fender flares. Changes since have been minimal, though in the debut year the SR5 2WD came standard with a 2.7-liter inline-4 (157 hp and 178 lb-ft) matched to a four-speed automatic gearbox. Given its underpowered nature, we weren't sad to see it discontinued in the 2011 model year. These first two years of the generation also lack the current model's available Entune smartphone integration system.
Prior to this, there was the fourth-generation 4Runner, which was produced from 2003-'09. As before, this 4Runner was meant to be off-road-worthy, good-looking and built to last. The frame employed fully boxed side rails that significantly increased torsional rigidity. This eliminated much of the body flex that gave the previous version a sloppy ride on the highway. The fourth-generation 4Runner also featured a roomier and much-improved cabin.
The standard engine was a 4.0-liter V6 rated at 245 hp, and it originally came with a four-speed automatic. There was also an optional V8 that produced just 235 hp but a healthy 320 lb-ft of torque (vs. 282 lb-ft for the V6); a five-speed automatic was mandatory here. In 2005, the V8 was bumped up to 270 hp and 330 lb-ft, and the V6 received a five-speed automatic. A revised power-rating procedure for 2006 caused output numbers to drop a bit, but actual power was unchanged.
This 4Runner was available in SR5, Sport or Limited trim, and a third-row seat was optional on SR5 and Limited beginning in 2004. Even the SR5 was quite nicely equipped, including features like automatic climate control and full power accessories. The Sport added off-road-ready items like a roof rack and side steps, as well as bigger wheels and front brakes and Toyota's X-REAS suspension system for reducing body roll. The Limited was the top-of-the-line model, boasting leather seating and dual-zone climate control. A navigation system was optional, and it included a back-up camera starting in 2004. Model year 2006 brought more styling tweaks and extra sound-deadening material, and the previously optional side curtain airbags became standard for '08.
In reviews, we found the fourth-generation Toyota 4Runner to be surprisingly light and responsive for a truck-based SUV. For general use, the powerful and more fuel-efficient V6 was satisfactory, but the torquey V8 was useful for towing, and it was also more refined. As expected, this 4Runner shined off-road. On the downside, it provided less cargo space than most of its midsize competitors, and the optional third-row seat didn't fold completely flat and offered limited legroom. Also, the 4Runner's utilitarian roots produced trucklike body motions at times.
The third-generation 4Runner was sold from 1996-2002. It came in three trims -- base, SR5 and Limited. It looked great but lacked power, and it also had a hefty price tag. Depreciation has neutralized much of the price premium, however, and this 4Runner still holds its value quite well, which is advantageous when it comes time to sell.
As numerous car-based SUVs entered the market, the third-generation 4Runner grew old quickly, and its weaknesses began to show. Two engines were available: a 150-hp 2.7-liter inline-4 and a 183-hp 3.4-liter V6 engine, neither of which was particularly strong for the time. Some of our editors also thought that the body was too narrow, making the cabin feel tight and claustrophobic. Furthermore, the stereo was difficult to operate -- an unusual criticism for a Toyota product. Still, this model impressed with its off-road prowess and typically high Toyota build quality. Buyers in search of a tough, capable SUV with a reputation for durability could do much worse than a 4Runner from this era.
Prior to the third generation, the Toyota 4Runner was even rougher around the edges, but it was a solid value in its day. The second-generation 4Runner, sold from 1990-'95, came in two trim levels: SR5 and SR5 V6. The SR5 was powered by a 116-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder, while the SR5 V6 came with a 150-hp 3.0-liter V6. Most models sold were four-doors, though two-door models were also offered.
Read the most recent 2013 Toyota 4Runner review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Toyota 4Runner page.